Thursday, April 16, 2015

New Love

I had a good laugh the other day and said to Chris something about remember when my blog used to be really cheerful with lots of pictures of cake and grimy babies playing in the sun?  What happened? Now I can't type without crying and when I sit down to write something really witty and happy, it's not that the dialogue isn't there.  It's not that we're not having fun or not baking piles of cookies and getting lost on campus playing when bed times are way long gone.  We are, not much has changed.  There's still kids throwing fits, messes to clean up, and life going on just like every other family.  But for whatever reason, I feel like there's a download going on, a foster care influx, and the info isn't for our family to sit on and hover over.  I feel like we're getting a new glimpse into a reality that's always been there, we just missed it before somehow.  Like all the years I sang the songs about wanting to know the Lord's heart and asking Him to give me His eyes, to break my heart for what breaks His, it was genuine and I'm confident I took ground.  It's just that now, that's the thing that comes out of my mouth and quickly from my heart when I sit down in this space. 
There's so much new territory to tread through and good gracious I would love a road map or a formula to tell me exactly how to go.  I'm learning the ropes on how operate quickly in discussions with CPS, how to keep my cool when meetings don't go as planned, patience in the health department lines each month to collect formula vouchers.  The methodical and rhythmic functions have become to-do lists that can go without emotion.

But what about the parts to this equation that can't be done without the heart?
What about the part where there's a new little human, a little baby suddenly in my home among my own children, with his own needs and desire to belong?  Where's the training manual for that?
How do you do it, how do you emotionally bring someone else's baby into your home and love them?  What does that kind of love even look like?

I go back to love, the fiery kind I felt 12 years ago.  The night I met my husband, I knew it was him my heart needed to love.  And when he proposed, I thought I might just pass out from excitement that he chose me and this would be it forever.  That kind of love.
A seed was planted that day and the months after when he waited for me at the end of the aisle and we said forever, no matter what.

Love continued on taking new form.  The first time I saw her face on the ultrasound screen, a mama's love crept in slowly and set up camp.  And the moment her little head was held up in over the blue curtain and I saw her lips, her dark hair, and her precious pink little face, well right then I just thought my heart was going to burst wide open.  With each little face that was viewed on screens and then held up over the sheet, my heart grew and expanded.  She looked like her daddy, she had his eyes on that first night we met.  Her lips looked like her sisters.  Her cheeks were a carbon copy of mine when I was a baby.  Bella looked like Emma and then Alice was a replica of Sophie.  Amazing how those features, beyond the DNA strands and multiplication of cells, the science of it all.  She was us.  And that realization throws gasoline on a heart growing in love and it fans the flame.  You know her, you learn to anticipate her wants and needs, you learn her temperament, sooner and sooner with each baby.  And I remember someone saying a baby stares at her mama's eyes because she wants to know her, I remember wondering if that was true.  Did we really need to gaze, didn't she already know and I knew her every inch?

How little did I know that one day I would find the answer.

You realize how much unassuming features like eyelashes and pouted lips affect your emotion the way you love and feel affection for your baby.  Then what comes second nature, the way you love your nieces and nephews, your friend's children.  They're extensions of the people and relationships you hold so dear.  An automatic leap on the game board, quick love and growing fondness because your value for this family member, this friend already established rank in your heart so naturally their children follow in suit.

So how do you love, even begin to recognize and understand love when all familiarity is stripped away?  All you know of love are a specific set of tracks, tracks you ran on before and eventually lead you to this place but you need new tracks, for a new love.

Months ago when we walked into the hospital, I still didn't have a name or picture of this little one.  So many parents walked and will walk this road before me.  Adoption, foster care, guardianship.  You walk into a room and leave with a child, a baby, a sibling set.  The room is a local CPS office, a court house, an orphanage in another country.  I admire and have the utmost respect for these brave men and women who are willing to jump ship and head straight onto these new tracks of love.  Not the love that is planted and grown over 9 months, cultivated on ultrasound screens and first moments of life, the labor of love and stretching of a body to host and birth this life to be.  A love waiting in a hospital room alone, waiting to know his cry is heard and his life matters, that he's seen.

There he was waiting, needing us.  

I thought about this moment from the first day we agreed to start the paper work.  I wanted and so deeply desired quick love, instant love.  Would it be possible?  All the attachment literature I found gave tips and offered suggestions, but everything I read said time, it takes time.  That was the day I began praying for that moment, that day.  Begging the Lord for a love that would be unexplainable other than His goodness and perfect, timely provision.  I made my requests specific and clear, I wanted to see this baby, whoever they are.  I wanted to pull them in close and I wanted instant love.

New love.

This new love came and with it so much newness and change.  A love that is no longer attached to a sonogram or a dream, prayers for months and comparing this growing life to a fruit size and preparing to see a life, an extension of your own self.  It's a love that you want with everything in you to hold it loosely because we all know how the story ends that one day he leaves and he never comes back.  The type of love that renders you desperate and crawling back to the cross because it's there that He first loved us.  So you hold your breath for a few days, a few weeks and then you remember the day you exhaled and you let him in.  The day you looked in the mirror and told yourself there's no going back and there's no way of knowing what's coming but that this baby needs love and with everything in me, I'm all in and we're all in.

This love brings to the surface a sacrificial element I've never had to give away.  It will cost us everything because the seed was planted, the ground was worked and poured over, the crop yielded pulled from the ground and then it will be let go.  This love requires release, that he may never know or remember who we were.  He may never know the story of the day we brought him home, that his coming home outfit was passed on from a community ready to welcome him.  He may never know many diapers we changed or how he was swaddled in the night.  The kind of love that wonders, in the lull of the day, if he will ever know how much we loved and fought for him.

A love that requires you to step into someone else's war, the war unseen that leaves a path unrepairable and unrecognizable if the drought wins, if the thief in the night has his way.  It's declaring war on a battlefield, beyond a mess you didn't make and a discomfort and inconvenience you'd prefer to walk away from.  Drawing your sword and piercing into the darkness with light and exposing things I don't want to see and I don't want him to grow up in.  A love that never gives up when some days you just want to quit.

Back to the cross because He didn't quit on me either.

This new love is none like I've ever known.  It's an overflow and a swell so grand that it brings everything up along with it and when it spills over, it all comes to the surface.  All my fears, desperation to protect him, to know the uncertain.  The pain that will come when I can't breathe and his crib is empty, because all along isn't that the reason we said we couldn't and never would do this in the first place?

And then you look over and that little girl who was once a baby herself in your arms, she's holding that baby and he's staring right back at her.
And she whispers and she tells him how one day he's going to move mountains and how it's going to be okay.
She holds him close and she asks me how are we going to let him go.  And you fight back the tears that so easily come these days and you tell her we will some day but that for today, she's doing exactly what He's asked us to do.  You fill up that baby with truth and love so that every seed planted is soaked in the Lord's presence and that scheme brewing in the dark is driven out so far it doesn't come back.
Because with everything in me, in us, this baby is marked with hope and promise.  That every moment and that place where we give until we're empty and desperately crawl back so He can fill us up again, that seed is untouchable and will one day be called out to the surface and a harvest will come.

I don't know this kind of love, not before that phone rang and this tiny life came to live under my roof.  I don't know this new love that catches your thoughts when your mind shifts into neutral and you can't think without crying and when you go before the throne room in the early morning hours you weep because the words can't hardly come out.
I don't know this love but I'm learning it well, these new tracks, new seed, and new war.  And I look down and catch his brown eyes looking up at me and I remember, that quote from a decade ago, it came back into my mind.  The one about babies staring and gazing into their mama's eyes just so they can know her, breathe her in.  
We stare, this baby and me...and I'll say it goes both ways.  We stare and we learn each other, we gaze and he wonders while I anticipate what lies ahead.  He cackles and I wonder, I learn, I fail, and I try again.  He looks in deep and I learn when to draw my sword and when to scatter the seeds.
New journey of new unknown and most of all, new love.

"God is love.  He didn't need us.  But He wanted us.  And that is the most amazing thing." 
~Rick Warren

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bruce Wayne & Batman

Mamas wear many hats.  We can all draw up the lists and try to count how many parts we play in a given day, some more than others.  We are professional diaper changers and have black belts in one-armed cooking while hollering out how to spell "about".  We can be a many different things during any given part of any day.  One hat on while seamlessly the other hat vanishes.  From mediator, chauffeur, cook, tutor, counselor, to friend and wife.

It reminds me of the Batman series in the late 60's where Bruce Wayne would stroll the streets in a svelte suit with charm and class, then by night he fought crime and always beat the bad guys.  The laughable part was unlike the modern day Christian Bale who is almost unrecognizable as Batman, Adam West still looked like Bruce Wayne...even when he was Batman.  Somehow a tiny piece of black leather that only covered the frame of his eyes somehow fooled everyone he saw into believing he was in fact, the cape crusader.

I feel like I've added a hat to the pile.  Foster mama.  Some days I feel like it's a scam, like I have no control, or rights, or say and instead take on the bad guys and at the end of the day, it was just me and it wasn't that impressive.  Other days, I'd say I was feeling more impressive.  That I was ahead of the game, followed the thief to his lair and had all the high tech gadgets from Albert and I blew them away.

A collision of two identities, two worlds, two realities I would like to keep separate.  I like compartments, cubbies, organization.  I would rather somehow immerse myself, our family into the darkness only if I can secure the win.  And not have either one bleed into the other.  I've put a great deal of effort into this seemingly fantastic idea only to realize as of late, it's just not possible.  Not only is it not possible, its exhausting and tiring to keep the two apart.  World one, life as I knew it back before that late night phone call and learning he was alive and needed us.  And then life after that phone call.  Two realities both necessary and real.  One busy with school, soccer, dance, community, homework, exercise, marriage, raising babies.  And then there's the other busy with parent visits, therapies, health department meetings, court hearings and CPS home visits.

Two versions of any given emotion or situation, once one dimensional and now many dimensions and realms.
Disrespect, my kids can hand it out super fast, like butter.  Forgetful of manners or my hard work goes unnoticed over a meal or the sacrifice to double as a sherpa out to a soccer field, which I happily and joyfully do, but the thank you, any amount of gratitude, is lost.
Then there's the disrespect that comes when birth parents don't show up for appointments and visits, for weeks in a row, when you farm your kids out and drive to an appointment to pursue her and be for her, only to have her show up almost an hour late without a 'thank you' or a 'sorry I was late'.  There's nothing.

The difference here is the latter example then stretches beyond my discomfort or my offense.  It's not just my calendar, my kids, my life that is messed with.  It actually has and becomes nothing to do with me.  You watch these babies wait in yet another lobby.  You watch them look for mama and something tells you she's not coming but you wait too.  And you try to understand her heart, her world.  You've taken steps into it and it's messier and darker than you imagined.  You do your best to rationalize why she's late, why she's unsafe, why she uses.  But when he watches for her and the years  have taught him deep survival and danger.  Over and over the message being sent is devalue and unprotected love on a level I can't and never will wrap my mind around.  He sleeps soundly in his car seat while brother plays with trains on a filthy lobby floor, occasionally glancing out the window.  These children bounce from home to home, their baggage is too violent and too much to handle.  The only consistent thing they know is her, and she's hardly there anymore and she's not coming.

Today she never came.  Today it hit hard.  I scooped up that little one and although he doesn't know me well, I pulled him in close and told him he's loved, he's worth a mountain to climb.  Will they climb it for these children?  Today I lose hope because the path leading up to the mountain is empty and there's no one behind us either who's coming.

So what do you do here?  How do you return home to this life that yes you've created for yourself and you've made the choices to get you to this place but underneath all that, again is it has nothing to do with me.  How do you leave that lobby and turn your back on this child, scoop up his brother and bring him back into the fold of family and safety?

When I take off the mask and slip out of my immortal suit when I get home, I didn't win and neither did the bad guys.  Who are the bad guys?  In my mind it can't be, it can't possibly be these parents, the thousands of parents who leave children to watch and wait, when the reality of foster care leaves them in hospital rooms with broken bodies because even still they aren't and weren't protected.  It just can't be because if it is, if it's true, then I quit fighting for them and I quit believing for change and I lose hope.  I have to believe the enemy is at work here and what a monstrous masterpiece of destruction he is painting.  I have to choose to believe in the unseen and it's not because naivety has blinded eyes or the reality of the situation isn't made clear.  The only way out here can't come from a room of self engineered gadgets and schemes to be executed with smooth craftiness.

The only clear path is hope and belief in what He says is true, that He is a strong tower and all who run into it are safe.  How and what does this look like when it feels like darkness is taking ground and the aftermath doesn't end with credits rolling up and everything is magically okay?
We will come home, pick up kids from school and carry on with the weekend.  Soccer games, swim lessons, church, friends.  It will all carry on.  The two worlds continue to collide and honestly I wasn't ready for it.  Only a small thread of a black leather mask keeps me from bursting into tears watching him sleep and feeling the uncertainty of what is to come.  Being present and available to these precious lives once growing in my belly are now running, dreaming, and needing to know they're seen.

I want a beautifully articulate conclusion to this mess.  I want a plan, I want the road map to the bad guy's secret hideout so all victory can be won and the bad dream can go away.  I know it's not going to happen and I know the deepest desires of my heart may never happen.
So for today we will press on grateful for this life and that he gets to be in it for however long that is. Thankful to pull him out of the enemy's fingertips and contend for levels of breakthrough and growth, progress and change only the Lord can bring.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, a fortress, and all the righteous will run into it and be safe.
Proverbs 18:10

Thursday, March 26, 2015

From Four to Five

Spring time is upon us and I'm rather glad, ready for sunshine and flip flops.  Happy to put away the buckets of hats and gloves that tend to lose their partners and result in a melting child walking out the door for school.  We loved the sledding, hot cocoa, and snow days but now, now it's time for flowers, being outside, spring sports and so much more.

The promise of what lies dead beneath winter's blanket will soon bloom into fullness.

We've done this season many times before, sorting through clothes, making lists of who needs what.  Resizing soccer cleats, signing up for softball, cleaning out the garage.  In years past we've adjusted with each little blessing of a princess and we've tossed in bottles, breast pumps, teething toys and extra puffs.  There was the gradual transition of a few days in the hospital, recovering from repeat c-sections, just me and a babe nursing and staring at each other, breathing in her scent and her eyes a gaze, discovering who I am.  But it's different this time, so different.  This time through, the transition has familiar elements on the practical front but the emotional aspect, it's a whole new ballgame.

From four to five.

One day we walked into a NICU and held him, the next day I walked out of the hospital with him by myself.  No stitches, no congratulations, no cart full of flowers.  Instead, floods of texts from friends and family that we can do this, how loved he is already.  I remember sitting at a stoplight sobbing, calling Chris at work and saying how I just left the hospital with someone else's baby.

Where is his mama?  Is her milk coming in, yet she has no one's scent to breathe in?  Is she sad, is she relieved?  Is she scared he may never come home, or is she so enslaved to the enemy that she can't think of anything else?  Will we have him for weeks or months, or longer?

I drove home, picked up kids from school and an hour later sat in a dance lobby fighting back tears.  Watching her twirl and look to see if I'm watching her, while my hands hold this tiny life and wonder what's ahead.  Finishing homework, feeding kids and leaving them with my mama only to drive to that lobby.  The lobby of child protective services.  How I didn't know then that would be the hardest place to sit day after day, week after week.
It was dark outside in the cold of winter.  They arrive on the elevator, she's still walking like a new mama does days after birth yet instead of a joyful, swaddled bundle, she carries shame and sadness.  Eyes so sad, so angry.  They visit in a room monitored by state social workers, then we leave.  Home that night only to be up all night while he adjusts and learns my voice, a new environment.  The next morning life resumes, I don't have stitches or fatigue from birth, but wounds and exhaustion like I've never known.  Looks a little different this time.

Life continued and here we are months later.  One night, a dear friend asked if we wanted to join her and another family at the beach.  We shopped, packed, prepared and learned how to leave town without a foster baby.  A sweet friend who herself knows loss and heartache on a level I'll never grasp asked if she could keep him for the week, that it would do her heart good to hold a baby...especially this baby.  Lots of phone calls, releases, paper work and arrangements later, off we went as a family for the first time to the beach.  I'll admit I processed through some guilt and emotion, would I be able to engage, can I enjoy a trip and not feel bad about it?
How easy He made it and how blessed beyond measure we were.

We drove in to the little beach town late in the evening, smelling the salt already and hearing the ocean's waves.  Tucked little tired babes into bed and anticipated the morning, the week to come.

And we learned a whole new bucket of things to enjoy.


The Ocean

10 years ago Chris and I sat on a beach together and talked about the night before.  The wedding, my white dress, lipstick roses, our friends and family who came to celebrate us.  I always wanted children but never dreamed it would be like this.  This time I saw it through their eyes, giggles and squeals from the back seat.

I hear it mama, I hear the waves.

Sand between toes, chilly ocean blue, and clear skies with a breeze so perfect the only response was hours of play and discovery.  Only just the beginning.

Farmers Market
Each day there was a local farmers market with little shops and vendors displaying their produce and treats.  We wandered around taking samples and admiring the little things that I'm certain I don't notice as much back at home.

Endless Play
This would be my absolute favorite part of the beach.  Sand, water, beach toys and an open day.  My girls played for hours with their friends.  One day a man came and gave a lesson on how to build a real sand castle.  No schedule or specific place to be, a calendar wiped clean with a simple agenda to just be.

Beach Town Life
It doesn't even seem real, this little beach town perched on the edge of the ocean.  The houses, condos, hotels, food trucks.  Bicycles everywhere, carefree wandering and a slow pace I wish would just follow us home.

Our friends are simply the best.  Lisa and I met in kindergarten, feel so blessed to have grown up with such a lovely lady.  I remember field trips in her mama's van, her yellow doll house we played with late into the night, slumber parties after a day spent at the pool.  And Becca, when I was in first grade, I walked 3 houses down and knocked on her door and asked her to be my friend and decades later here we sit, laughing and remembering neighborhood games of hide and seek, summers in the creek teasing snapping turtles and college days as roommates.  Now here we all sat, remembering when we would play together and now watching our children play with deep gratitude and thanksgiving.

Families Together

There is a chaos and a sweetness to 6 adults and 10 kids blending for the week in one house, for all meals, parenting, and every day habits.  We shopped for groceries together, cooked together and gathered around the table for simple meals.  It's messy and it's cluttered, so much to do and always someone to play with.

Honestly it felt like a dream.  It was more than just a vacation, it was a week so perfectly timed and that we will never forget.  Amidst the normal daily challenges of sibling rivalry, changing diapers, being patient, our new challenges were shelved and we were thankful to leave them be.  We escaped and relished in her laughter, the sound of the ocean, the sunlight streaming in each morning and sounds of children laughing and playing.

And in the early morning we hours we packed our cars, pulled sleeping babies from beds and loaded them in their pajamas.  We drove until we couldn't see the ocean anymore.  Highways and quick stops, sharing our favorite parts of the week past.

It was all my favorite.  Every single part.  I want to go back today.  The only thing I would do differently...I want to scoop up that baby boy and bring him with us.

I want to shield him from everything and encapsulate him in a world full of endless play, family meals, and alarm clocks that smell like sunscreen and sunshine.  Beds full of powdered sand and imaginations running wild on the water's edge.

I want him long enough to teach him the beauty of family, generous friends who open their home, community that rallies and brings meals and sacks of baby clothes.
I want him sitting around my table in a highchair asking for Cheerios and making a mess with his spaghetti as we talk and read about the stories that lead to the moment He took it all in a night, how He became darkness so that we could walk in light, in freedom.  How we take steps closer each day to remind our hearts of the journey of the Cross so that we would decrease and He would increase.

From four to five children I've learned to adjust day by day and to flex muscles that have lied dormant and never have and never wanted to be flexed.  After hours of meetings and paper work, future court hearings to come, that on paper the process of reunification sounds simple and calculated.  But I would be lying if I said I felt anything but peace when you explain to me that one day he will have a visit without any state social workers, not in a confined room with a lobby and only feet away, where I sit and wait, counting down the minutes.  And that soon after that he will transition to spending one night away from us, then soon after we will drop him off and he won't come back home to us.
That my heart has moments and days when I don't want to pursue his mama and I don't want to be His hands and feet.

Today I know truth deep down in my heart and I know and trust what the Father has called us to, but today I don't want to get out of the boat.  Today I want to lavish this precious one in safe love, consistent love and take him to places he only dreams of.  I want to watch him admire the colors of a farmers market, listen to the waves chase the shoreline and ask him which macaroon he likes the best.

I want to dream with him and for him, and I want this nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach to go away.  I want to be comfortable and I want complete control over every part of this case, of his life.  
I want to teach him to throw a baseball and I want to declare identity and call out the gold in him for his whole life and see a destiny come to fruition of plans with greatness and prosperity.
And I know you can do that from a distance and I know His love is more powerful than any scheme of the enemy.  
And I know I want my desperate pleas of prayer and breakthrough to be my lens and not curse this tree with my next breath.
I know that I can lay my head down and night and contend for the unseen as he will one day be in another home, not up the stairs tucked in his crib.

And I know, I know, that I don't have to cross that bridge today.

I wish my heart would grab ahold of that more consistently, that somehow my paradigm of excellence and high standards are not any different for my girls than they are for him, yet daily the requirement is to function and compromise, to comply with judge's orders and follow through with things that sound good on paper but go against every grain in you as a mother and an advocate.  Learning to comply when everything in you screams for justice and change, that it's not good enough and settling isn't an option.

Today going from four to five feels honoring, empowering, exhausting and scary.  
As His perfect satisfying manna falls from heaven, I know it's just for today.  I know this, He so gently whispers to remind me.
That when I try to collect and grab ahold of tomorrow's provision it only spoils and doesn't serve me well, it never does.
For today I'll choose peace and I'll choose to believe the things I've read on these pages for decades and known worship lyrics to by heart.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow His words, His character, and His peace are real.

They just have to be.

"Thou O Lord are a shield about me,
You're the glory and the lifter of my head."
Psalms 3:3